20 Words That Make You Sound Smarter

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Let’s face it: Sometimes we need to sound more intelligent than we actually are.  Whether it’s for an interview with a potential employer or the need to have the last word in an argument, a great vocabulary is vital for sounding smart… er, I mean, perspicacious. Implement these 20 words and phrases (complete with contemporary examples) in your everyday speech and your diction will become more sophisticated, cultured, and most importantly…smart!

Avant-Garde: [uh-vahnt-gahrd]  –noun

The advance group in any field, especially in the visual, literary, or musical arts, whose works are characterized chiefly by unorthodox and experimental methods

Example: Lady Gaga’s avant-garde sense of fashion continues to awe many of her fans.

Bravado: [bruh-vah-doh]  –noun

A pretentious, false display of courage

Example: The cheerleader was full of bravado at practice, but became extremely nervous when she stepped on the field.

Caustic: [kaw-stik] –adjective

Severely critical or sarcastic

Example: The frat boy made a caustic remark when he told the pledge to take a day off.

Ennui: [ahn-wee, ahn-wee; Fr. ahn-nwee] –noun

A feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest; boredom

Example: The three-hour lecture produced an unbearable ennui among the students.

Equanimity: [ee-kwuh-nim-i-tee, ek-wuh-] –noun

Mental or emotional stability or composure, especially under tension or strain; calmness

Example: Despite the fact that she had two exams on the same day, the student retained a sense of equanimity.

Esoteric: [es-uh-ter-ik] –adjective

Understood by or meant for only the select few who have special knowledge or interest;

Example: The inside joke was full of esoteric allusions.

Fait Accompli: [fe ta-kawn-plee] –noun

An accomplished fact; a thing already done

Example: The football team’s win was a fait accompli long before the kick-off.

Fastidious: [fa-stid-ee-uhs, fuh-]  –adjective

Excessively particular, critical, or demanding; hard to please

Example: Mr. Johnson’s class is usually avoided because he is known for being a fastidious grader.

Hedonist: [heed-n-ist]  –noun

A person whose life is devoted to the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification

Example: She enjoyed the entire box of chocolates because she was a hedonist at heart.

Idiosyncratic: [id-ee-uh-sing-kruh-see, -sin-]  –noun

A characteristic, habit, mannerism, or the like, that is peculiar to an individual.

Example: The sky-high “Poof” is an idiosyncratic part of Snooki’s image.

Idyllic: [ahy-dil-ik]  –adjective

Charmingly simple or rustic

Example: The students enjoyed the idyllic nature of Thanksgiving break.

Kitsch: [kich]  –noun

Something of tawdry design, appearance, or content created to appeal to popular or undiscriminating taste.

Example: The Justin Bieber record, while unashamedly promoting commercial kitsch, still has a decent beat to it.

Maudlin: [mawd-lin]  –adjective

Foolishly sentimental, tearfully or weakly emotional

Example: After a few cocktails, the lonely girl wrote a maudlin text message to her ex-boyfriend.

Nouveau Riche: [noo-voh reesh] –noun,

A person who is newly rich

Example: 50 Cent was not invited to the gala because the hosts found him to be an uncultured nouveau riche.

Panacea: [pan-uh-see-uh–noun

An answer or solution for all problems or difficulties

Example: The professor’s economic philosophy is clever, but he shouldn’t always use it as a panacea.

Quintessence: [kwin-tes-uhns] –noun

The most perfect embodiment of something

Example: The student’s thesis expresses the quintessence of his argument.

Red Herring: –noun

Something intended to divert attention from the real problem or matter at hand; a misleading clue.

Example: The murderer in the novel was revealed at the end after a few red herrings.

Scintillating: [sin-tl-ey-ting]  –adjective

Witty; brilliantly clever

Example: The show, Californication, is filled with scintillating dialogue and hilarious puns.

Teetotaler: [tee-toht-ler, tee-toht-] –noun

A person who abstains totally from intoxicating drink

Example: After what happened over the last year, I wouldn’t be surprised if Charlie Sheen became a teetotaler.

Tête-à-tête: [teyt-uh-teyt]–noun

A private conversation or interview, usually between two people.

Example: When the other housewives weren’t looking, Vicki and Tamra had a tete-a-tete in the corner.

To improve your diction, use words in your everyday speech. But remember, “in promulgating your esoteric cogitation’s or articulating your superficial and sentimentalities and amicable philosophical or psychological observations, beware of platitudinous panderosity.”

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    1. maria says:

      LOL it's a shame that some of these words are on the list…
      Nouveau Riche? Quintessence? Red Herring? Caustic? Ennui? Scintillating? Avant-Garde?!
      these are words that i learned years ago…and i'm a prefrosh.
      the sad part is that i'm not a genius…

      1. sarah says:

        There's no reason to look down on people who don't yet know these words, or people who are willing to learn things. There is nothing wrong with learning vocabulary at any level. That being said, having a big vocabulary doesn't make you a better person – so please don't be such a snob.

      2. maria says:

        meh. did i ever say or suggest that i looked down on people? or that i was a better person? i just find it a bit surprising that some of these words made the list. chill. i'm not a snob.

      3. liz says:

        Someone is probably thinking the same thing about the words YOU didn't know.

      4. Rachel says:

        Hopefully you mature a little and lose this attitude before you start college…

    2. criolle johnny says:

      Educators have an "Esoteric" vocabulary.
      Mechanics have an "Esoteric" vocabulary.
      Military have an "Esoteric" vocabulary.
      Editors have an "Esoteric" vocabulary.
      We CHANDLERS have an "Esoteric" vocabulary.


      Pouring chocolate rainbows. No really!

    3. Ariel says:

      I already knew the meaning of this words because of my active reading throughout the years.I will say that i do not use these words with my family or friends, however i have had the opportunity to use these words with complete strangers, LOL.

    4. Claire says:

      I already knew the meanings of most of these words (being French helps with words such as ennui and tête à tête), but I never actually use them in my day to day life. For some reason, I always feel very pretentious when using the term "nouveau riche"😛

      It's a good list though!

    5. […] Words you need to add to your vocabulary […]

    6. Alex says:

      More useful than pretentious words is the art of knowing when to stay silent. Sometimes it's better to keep mum and let others think you're a dimwit than open your trap and prove it.

      er….. perhaps now would be a good time to follow my own advice……..

    7. Suzy Pepper says:

      Is Topanga a reference that I don't understand? So confused!

      1. nessa says:

        Topanga went to Yale–she's SMART
        And knows these words! =)

    8. colby says:

      Many of the phonetic spellings of these words are wrong – too many 'uh's. And I can't even decipher what that mess after 'scintillating' is supposed to mean. If you mispronounce these words or use them when they're not really necessary, you won't sound smart; you'll sound like you're trying to sound smart.

    9. maria says:

      yay racism !

      really, blackinjun? racist people shouldn't be allowed to comment.

    10. M.E.Smith says:

      I preface this comment by saying that as an educated African-American female, I make it my business to grow daily through all resources available. When my day is complete, I want to be more me in-tune with the Lord's will, ensure I'm a blessing to others in need through word AND deed, learn something "new", and be a BETTER "Me" tomorrow. I applaud the efforts extended in providing this list, because it is not a far-stretch from what my mother required as a "Weekly Household Assignment" amongst my siblings and me, along with weekly book reports. Albeit, the phonetics may be a little off, I think that it is an OUTSTANDING starting place for MANY adults who aspire to conduct meaningful conversations outside of their realm of comfortability, and in the encouragement of their children to speak something OTHER THAN the muddled, offensive form of the English language that we have to be subjected to on a daily basis. "If you are NOT a part of the SOLUTION … then you are DESTINED to be part of the PROBLEM"! KUDOS to you, College Candy!

    11. nessa says:

      First of all that's not how you spell the word.
      Second of all I AM black, my family is black, my extended family is black, I have friends who are black and we're perfectly capable of expressing ourselves without expletives.

    12. Ashley says:

      Some pretty bad pronunciations here. I speak French, pretty much at near-native proficiency (I've been speaking it my whole life, but I don't really use it anymore in every day settings, so I don't remember words as quickly as I do in English, but listening or reading something in French is easy enough as long as the words aren't being spoken extremely quickly. Those who use French as their first language speak it far faster than those who speak it as their second, even if it's native or near-native for them).

      Correct pronunciations (at least for the french words):
      Avant-Garde: sounds like "ah-vaunt -gahrd" and kind of roll the r. Or in the English way of saying, the "garde" would be like "guard" Hard g in both cases.

      Bravado: sounds like it's written. "brah-vah-doh."

      Ennui: French word, so you will not be pronouncing it properly anyways unless you speak French. But the "en" I'd say sounds most similar to the English word "honour." The "nu" sounds more like "nude," only I guess more nasal-y. So "nui" sounds like the start of "nude" with a pronounced "e" after the u in place of "de."

      Equanimity: [ee-kwuh-nim-i-tee, ek-wuh-] Pretty sure the "ee" should just be "e."

      Esoteric: Sounds like "ezz (as in pezz)-oh-tear (as in a rip in something)-ick" Pretty sure you can also pronounce it with a strong e at the beginning, like "eek"

      Fait Accompli: I don't believe that the "t" ties into "accompli." If it doesn't, it should sound like "feh (like the start of feta)-ah-koh (I can't think of a sound that replicates it in English, but the best I can find would be to picture yourself pronouncing the letter "o" quite nasal-y)-puhlee (the "uh" in there should almost not be audible. But the sound "plea" in English sounds just slightly off from the "pli" pronunciation in French, and this is the closest I can think of)"
      If the t does actually link into the a (as some french words in certain cases will have the last letter link to the next word, can't remember the reasons/cases), then it would be "feh-tah-koh-puhlea" with the same explanations as above.

      Idiosyncratic: Sounds like "idi (as in idiot)-yoh-sin-kra (as in crab)-tick" although the "yoh" can be pronounced slightly softer; but I'd not say it's full on "uh."

      Idyllic: Sounds like "eye-dill-ick" or you can pronounce the "dill" more as "deal"

      Nouveau Riche: Another French word that gets pronounced way too sharply in English. Sounds like "Noo (like boo)-voh (like vote) reesh." BUT, the r is pronounced differently. You are supposed to kind of roll the r I guess. Try mouthing it; the English way would have your lips pursed together almost as if you were whistling, while the French way has your lips placed in the way they would look when pronouncing the letter "e," only slightly more upturned. You'd have to practice that. And the ee in reesh is not pronounced too harshly.

      Panacea: [pan-uh-see-uh] I'd say that the "uh"s are not that strong, sounds kind of like the a's in banana

      Quintessence: sounds like "kwin-te (like in tethered)-since"

      Tête-à-tête: Sounds like "tayte (kind of… the e with the accent kind of sounds similar to the "ay" of "hay" only it's not really that pronunciation)-ah-tayte" I don't think those who do not speak French should use this saying…

      Might want to check this site out to brush up on pronunciation skills: http://www.french-linguistics.co.uk/pronunciation

      1. sam says:

        What the hell? I speak French too and can pronounce everything perfectly – but these words have been incorporated into the English language and nobody should be expected to pronounce these the French way. I'll never understand why some people who speak other languages expect people to pronounce stuff just like them. Also, "I don't think those who do not speak French should use this saying"? That's pretty stuck up.

      2. Chantelle says:

        Isn't this kind of a potato / potahto situation? I can't believe you actually took the time to list out the same words only with your own interpretation of the pronounciations.

      3. lola says:

        i really don't think any one else on here cares just how well you speak french or not and why, and whether you speak faster or slower than a native speaker, blah blah blah….WHO CARES?!

      4. Rachel says:

        actually hun, some of your pronunciations are wrong, maybe you just pronounce the english words wrong because of an accent, but yeah, their wrong

    13. Ashley says:

      ALSO, using many of these words in day-to-day conversations would very likely make one come off as snobby as opposed to well-educated. There is a line between growing one's vocabulary and simply memorizing "smart" words/sayings. Even my English professor in my first year at university only used a few words that were more advanced, but I could easily tell that he simply did so because those words have been enveloped into his repertoire naturally. Meaning he didn't go out seeking smart-people lingo, it just came to him as he read various works of literature. Which I think should be the only way we learn new words, not by being told by others what will make us sound smart. There are plenty of words I've likely picked up due to television and literature, but I've never used any of these words just because I thought they sounded smart.. they just stuck in my noggin once I learned their meaning.

      I guess if you really wanted to, you could go ahead and read the dictionary this summer as a means of naturally developing your vocabulary:)

      1. felicia says:

        "enveloped into his repertoire"
        :) you too, good sir/ma'am.

      2. jessica says:

        well you do you think he came about knowing these words you say liturature is that not what this is ? a piece to expand your vocabulary

    14. […] 20 Words That Make You Sound Smarter @ College Candy. An interesting read for those of you that want to add a few new words to your vernacular. I’ve been known to randomly use big words completely out of context. […]

    15. blah says:

      Can you say pretentious?

    16. E** says:

      If you didn't already know most of these you probably shouldn't be going to university…

      1. lola says:

        my thoughts exactly….

      2. rachel says:

        some of theese words are nought used in evry day languge, so just shut thee beep up b****

      3. trina1214 says:

        you can't even spell. I'm concerned.

      4. madison says:

        I'm pretty sure some of these are used in twelfth grade English exams, so if you're going to university you /should actually know these words/. I'm assuming you're about fourteen, so I won't fault you for your ignorance.

      5. ryan15 says:

        i knew some of these and i'm only 15

    17. Camille says:

      I believe any time you have a chance to improve your intellect is ok. However, the vocabulary given here I could not image using these words in a normal everyday conversation. For example, I think my family and friends would appreciate the word bordedom as to the word ennui. Who want to talk to you if every conversation involves them a using a dictornary. Remeber, there is a time and place for everything. Yes, even words!

      1. rachel says:

        i know right
        ennui what? I'm so "ennui" with this sight

    18. […] P.G. would have a large vocabulary and know how to use it. […]

    19. yaner says:

      smart people won't even bother.Pretentious people would learn this shit up in a second to use in their next conversation.

    20. smores says:

      how did u not do atache? (suitcase)

    21. metrocoastmom says:

      I actually enjoyed this post. I don't think these words are meant to be pretentious or used all in one convo. I think the author is giving a starting point to increase vocabulary.

    22. rachel says:

      it's cool to know big words like this, but you don't sound smart if people don't know what you mean, and you really don't sound smart when they think you are making words up when you don't know what to say. I try using words that most people have heard once or twice, but never use, then they know that you are not making them up, but you sound smart for using them.

    23. Stryka says:

      Thanks. Helped me with my sitcom. Now my braniac knows some big words! Helped a lot.

    24. a6145771 says:

      I’ve said that least 6145771 times. SKC was here…

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    26. oney me says:

      this pretentious site just illuminates the distropity of it all, that is the cause of the dessemenation of the site.

    27. Rufus Will says:

      this site is very ennui i insept that its only immensing and beging to engrave into a morphic state or what not. (british accent)

    28. Ashish Goswami says:

      I already knew thesehese words bt d pronunciaton n spelling mof d words given r wrong

    29. Art says:

      I knew the word "Example:"

    30. parfait says:

      Why is it mostly french words?

      You might as well respond in French to an English person!

      Guess that’s what smart is now

    31. aasdf says:

      Random words that seem 'difficult', aka unfamiliar to the writer, does not make one sound smart. It simply makes one should like someone who tried and failed to memorize the dictionary and failed.

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